Ben Folds Biography
Way To Normal UK Press Release - 22-07-2008
London, UK. (Top40 Charts/ SONY BMG MUSIC Entertainment) - The astonishing Ben Folds is to release of the much-anticipated new album from Ben Folds, WAY TO NORMAL, on September 29, 2008. The album, Folds' third as a solo artist since the break up of the Ben Folds Five in 2000, was mostly recorded at his studio in Nashville and produced by Dennis Herring (Elvis Costello, Modest Mouse, The Hives). Featuring Folds on vocals and piano, Way to Normal also features long-time bassist Jared Reynolds and drummer Sam Smith as well as a guest vocal from indie pop heroine Regina Spektor on the album's first single, "You Don't Know Me."
Way to Normal is an exuberant, raucous, and sometimes profane mix of sure-fire crowd-pleasers ("Hiroshima," "***** Went Nuts," and the frenetically fuzzed-out "Dr. Yang"), cheerful snark-fests ("The Frown Song," "Brainwascht"), and thoughtful, moving ballads ("Cologne," "Kylie From Connecticut") that Folds wrote at the end of 2007 following the finalization of a two-year divorce.
But it should not be assumed that Way to Normal is Folds' version of Marvin Gaye's Here My Dear or Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks (though Folds says that in the early stages of recording he came close to calling the album "Blood on the Keyboard").
"The songs are not topical," Folds says. "I was not interested in making a record about the D-word. I got all that stuff out of my system on the last record [2005's pensive Songs for Silverman], which was deliberately stoic. This new album is really about me being free, which is why it feels cathartic and expressive. It's about me coming back to being myself." (Hence the title.) "I came out of the courthouse, kissed the ground, and walked straight into the studio. I felt like a bottle of champagne that had been shaken for 18 months and popped open in the studio. That's why this record has so much energy."
Ben Folds has been performing at many summer festivals this year, and will continue to tour worldwide in support of Way To Normal throughout the fall and into 2009.
Official Biography - Songs For Silverman - 2005
"I wanted to make my "grow a beard, lock yourself in the studio, and play for a couple weeks album," says Ben Folds about SONGS FOR SILVERMAN, the follow-up to his solo debut Rockin' the Suburbs.
Recorded last fall in Nashville at the same RCA Studios used by Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins, and produced by Folds, the 11-songs on SONGS FOR SILVERMAN also feature bassist Jared Reynolds and drummer Lindsay Jamieson. "This is an album that we can sit in someone's living room and play from start to finish on piano, bass and drums. It's straightforward with a lot of heart."
After making Rockin' the Suburbs and a trio of EPs-Speed Graphic, Sunny 16, and Super D - more or less by himself, Folds says he wanted to work with a band for the first time since his previous group, Ben Folds Five, disbanded in 2000.
"I was tired of playing solo by myself; I'd worn that out," Folds recalls. "When I started looking for a couple of guys to play a few gigs with it didn't take me long to find the right guys. Lindsay is a madman on drums and Jared plays bass with a lot of attitude; they're perfect for my music – and they live down the street from me."
The experience convinced Folds to scrap the solo album he'd completed in the spring of 2004 and return to the studio later that fall. During a six week session, the trio quickly re-recorded songs from the unreleased album along with a few new songs.
"We recorded this album really fast because I wasn't worried about making changes to the songs; I'd already done that the first time through" Folds explains. "All we were concerned with was getting the right performance-doing a take, listening to the playback and getting chills when you know you nailed the spirit of the song."
The first track the trio recorded was "Bastard," which is a driving examination of the growing ranks of young conservatives that features vocals recorded on election night. "Winston Churchill said people who are old and liberal have no brain and people who are young and conservative have no heart. I wanted to say something about the jadedness of kids who think that it's all been done and they've seen everything by the time they're 18. You're not supposed to be like that when you're a kid. You have to let yourself be idealistic for at least a couple of minutes. There's a kind of person who gets more open-minded with age too. In this song, the old bastard is actually a teenager."
"Landed"-the first single-is classic Ben Folds with tasteful and dynamic playing coupled with evocative, well-chosen lyrics. "If you wrote me off, I'd understand it/ 'Cause I've been on some other planet/So come pick me up, I've landed."
"It's about a close friend of mine who's recovering from being under the influence of a crazy girlfriend," says Folds. "I had this mental image of him flying back to reality, landing at the airport and needing a ride back to the life he left behind."
"Sentimental Guy" and "Gracie"-a song about Folds' daughter-are the only songs from the original album to survive intact. Although Folds planned to re-record the entire album, Reynolds and Jamieson convinced him to leave those two untouched. "I really trust their opinions because they're not afraid to say, 'you can do better.' They didn't want to change a note so we left them alone."
In contrast, "Give Judy My Notice" has undergone several incarnations. The version on Speed Graphic is stripped back to just Folds alone on piano. The version featured on the unreleased album has a distinctly '80s pop sheen. In the end, the song wound up with a country edge thanks to renowned pedal steel player Bucky Baxter, who's played with R.E.M. and Bob Dylan.
"That song really shows how this album was recorded," Folds explains. "We decided to record the song, someone said 'Hey, Bucky's in town. Let's ask him to play on it.' Next thing I know we're in the studio with Bucky. Instead of thinking, this song needs to be this way; I just let the songs happen. The same thing happened with 'Time.' 'Weird' Al Yankovic was in town so we had him come down and sing on the chorus."
The hardest song to write, Folds says, was "Late," a song about singer-songwriter Elliot Smith, who died on October 21, 2003. "I toured with Elliot and knew him a little bit. His music was absolutely inspiring to me in every way. When I thought I wanted to quit music or quit anything, I found his music uplifting and reassuring. On top of that, he was a good guy. Trying to get that across in a song in a humble way without being cliché is a dodgy proposition."
The prospect of failing terrified Folds and kept him in knots for three days trying to write lyrics that would convey his sadness at losing Smith and his happiness for having known him only for a while. "I wanted to write about the Elliott Smith that I saw on tour, who seemed shy and fragile one minute then playing super aggressive basketball the next, whose music got me through some hard times," Folds says. "and when I felt bad about playing some gross club with profanity scrawled all over the ceiling, I knew Elliot was out there somewhere making beautiful music in the middle of the same kind of stink. Poets are inspired because they look up at the same sky that Wordsworth used to look at. I was inspired because I looked up at the same starscape of 'Dookie,' 'Nirvana Sux' and 'Eat Me' that Elliott used to look up at. Hopefully people will hear the song and five more people will go out and buy his records or think about what he meant. If it keeps him alive for another few minutes, then I accomplished what I wanted to do."
While there is no theme tying the songs together, Folds says all the songs on SONGS FOR SILVERMAN are imbued with the excitement the trio shared in the studio. "Some records really capture a moment in time," he says. "This album is about being spiritually tight, not necessarily musically tight."
After touring and recording without a band, Folds says returning to the familiar set up of piano, bass and drums for SONGS FOR SILVERMAN was refreshing. "Piano, bass and drums has always been most natural for me. I have tapes back to when I was 12 years old that are piano, bass and drums. I had two bands before Ben Folds Five that were piano, bass and drums. I felt the need to get away from that and do something different for a while but playing with bass and drums is my home."
While he plans to take Reynolds and Jamieson on the road this spring to support SONGS FOR SILVERMAN, Folds says he wants to remain open to anything and may sometimes tour and record with more musicians or solo at the piano.
Ben Folds Live Press Release - 2002
Ben Folds Releases his First Solo Live Album,
Inspired by the "ben folds and a piano" Tour of 2002
Ben Goes Back on the Road in October!
(tour dates here)
When Ben sat down at the piano for his first solo show in December 2001 at New York's Bowery Ballroom, he didn't know he'd be traversing the country for a two-leg solo tour the following spring. And when Ben begun the "ben folds and piano" tour (February - July 2002), he didn't know he'd end up rooting through hours and hours of his own live recordings, gathering tracks and snippets for his first-ever live album, Ben Folds Live. With so much stellar material, bolstered by the motivation of some audience-made magic, it just seemed like the right thing to do.
"The shows felt pretty special from the onset - I had never done a solo piano tour before - so we quickly mobilized 8 tracks of portable recording equipment and recorded nearly every show," says Ben. Armed with headphones while driving state to state, weeding out performances for an over 70-minute album, Ben built Ben Folds Live out of the best of the best onstage moments, including some very special audience participation. "I conducted them to sing harmonies and we incorporated that into the record where we could," he says. Recorded entirely on an 8-track and mixed at Marc Chevalier (his sound tech)'s apartment, Ben Folds Live chronicles the music's down-to-earth, natural progression from the sold-out concert hall to your stereo.
Ben Folds Live Tracklisting
1. one angry dwarf and 200 solemn faces - Washington, DC: 6/12/02 @ 9:30 Club
2. zak and sara - Portland, ME: 6/10/02 @ The State Theatre
3. silver street - Pontiac, MI: 6/25/02 @ Clutch Cargo's
4. best imitation of myself - New York, NY: 6/13/02 @ Roseland Ballroom
5. not the same - Northampton, MA: 6/7/02 @ Calvin Theatre
6. jane - Washington, DC: 6/12/02 @ 9:30 Club
7. one down - Washington, DC: 6/12/02 @ 9:30 Club
8. fred jones part 2 (feat. john mccrea) - San Francisco, CA: 3/25/02 @ The Fillmore
9. brick - New York, NY: 6/13/02 @ Roseland Ballroom
10. narcolepsy - New York, NY: 6/13/02 @ Roseland Ballroom
11. army - New York, NY: 6/13/02 @ Roseland Ballroom
12. the last polka - Pontiac, MI: 6/25/02 @ Clutch Cargo's
13. tiny dancer - Newport, RI: 7/6/02 @ Newport Music Festival
14. rock this bitch - Chicago, IL: 3/2/02 @ Vic Theatre
15. philosophy (inc misirlou) - Seattle, WA: 3/20/02 @ Moore Theatre
16. the luckiest - Lincoln, NE: 6/23/02 @ Rococo Theatre
17. emaline - Washington, DC: 6/12/02 @ XM Satellite Radio Performance Facility
The first 100,000 copies of Ben Folds Live come with a very special DVD featuring 35 minutes of live footage from Ben's tour!
Official Biography - Rockin' the Suburbs - 2001
"You know what we should do for the bio?" opines the affable, yet wisecracking Ben Folds. "My mother just sent me all the notes my teachers wrote about me when I was in school. Like this one: 'Ben is making very strange sounds with his mouth. This has been going on for some time.' Here's another one about how a teacher refused to grade a paper I wrote because it was 'extremely inappropriate and dirty,'" Folds reminisces, reveling in the inanity of it all. "I had to write a paper on a famous composer. I made up some fictional composer and wrote that his most famous piece was called 'Two-Time Mama' and all this crap. For some reason, if I thought that the teacher was a dumbass, I never made it through class. I couldn't stand the thought that someone who I thought was an idiot was teaching a class."
Sure, John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen have built careers on reflecting populist sentiment, whether it's the plight of farmers or the travails of the factory worker. But on rockin' the suburbs, his first Epic album since the dissolving of Ben Folds Five, the thirty-something Folds connects with more erudite commentary about real life than a Michael Moore film festival or a year's worth of Seinfeld reruns. What do farmers, factory workers, college students, pump attendants, dot-com workers, rock journalists and self-centered bohemian types have in common? Well, at one time or another we've all had to suffer from people who forget to use turn signals, write checks for a pack of smokes in grocery express lanes and cuss in front of little old ladies. Oh, yeah: We've also fallen in love, gotten hurt, cried and gotten over ourselves. Most of the time, being a smartass isn't about ego-flexing as much as it is about coping.
"After all those years," Folds says, "that streak is still there. I mean, you get kicked around enough and it gets watered down. I'm a nice guy. I'm not an asshole or anything. At least I don't think I am."
Folds came to prominence in 1995 as the leader of the Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based trio Ben Folds Five. Over the course of their 7-year existence, Folds, bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Darren Jessee pulled on heart strings, pulled off piano strings and pulled out hairs, explaining over and over again that (a) there were only three band members, (b) none of them play guitar and (c) there's no "the" in front of their name. A 1996 self-titled debut album for Caroline Records rocked many a college frathouse and sports bar with songs about sucky jobs, lost love, one-night stands with girls who looked like Axl Rose, and pinheaded alt-rock cliques (the wondrously pointed "Underground"). A freewheeling live show, spiked with joyous contempt and dazzling musicianship, put the Five on the map of the alternative nation.
Epic/550 wooed the Five over to their fold in 1996, and soon afterwards, the trio recorded Whatever And Ever Amen, a barnburner of a disc with slice-of-life vignettes about school geeks turned shot-callers and know-it-all slackers; paeans to ex-wives and self-doubt; and "Brick," a lush, yet sobering song about taking a lover to get an abortion. Americans responded the best way they knew how, sending the single to the top of the charts and the album to platinum status. Terms like "post-modern piano man" were bandied about as the trio headlined around the world and played with everyone from Beck to Counting Crows to Neil Young. And finally, thanks to major label tour support, the band could hire somebody else to lift that fucking piano on and offstage every night.
In 2000, Folds got some of his Chapel Hill buddies to contribute to Fear Of Pop, Volume One, a not-quite instrumental solo album featuring four vocal tracks (two by Folds, one by actor William Shatner and one lengthy rap by Frally Hynes, the Australian Ben later married and with who he had twins). This was merely a respite for the next Five album, The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner, a disc showcasing a greater depth in songwriting, arrangements and personal reflection that retained a mere smidgen of the band's unparalleled smarminess. After wrapping up a lengthy tour, and en route towards the making of their fourth album, the band came to some stark realizations: They hadn't written any songs, picked a producer, determined a studio or a starting date. They never cared about that stuff before, so why should they now? Instead, the members of Ben Folds Five decided they'd had a great run and disbanded in March 2001. "We just didn't have the same drive," says Folds of the breakup. "If it had still been exciting and fun, we would've carried on."
Prior to touring behind the Messner album, Folds had moved to Adelaide, Australia in 1999 to be with his new family and away from the assorted evils of the music business. (Australia has the highest concentration of venomous snakes and insects than anywhere else in the world. In theory, Folds wasn't that far away from the music business after all.) He also decided it was a good place to record. rockin' the suburbs was recorded in an old church with producer Ben Grosse at the controls, and Folds on anything he could get his hands on. Although known first and foremost as an accomplished pianist, Folds' musical education actually began as a drummer in high school. He learned piano primarily as a composition tool, while learning bass and guitar along the way. In much the same manner as when he was recording demos for the Five, Folds chose Ben Grosse, known for his work on records by Filter and Fuel, to capture a particular vibe the artist was looking to tap into. "Filter was the selling point for me," says Folds about wanting to work with Grosse. "I got the quintessential suburb-rocking producer to work for me. He knows all the sliders and knobs on the board that denote the rocking of suburbs." The recording process, on the other hand, taught Ben some new tricks. Accustomed to simply setting up some microphones in his house and letting the band just play, Folds was taken aback when Grosse came in with his extensive knowledge in Pro Tools and digital recording techniques, wondering what the hell had he gotten himself into. "We come from two completely different directions," he notes. "I've always stuck up mics everywhere, pressed 'record' and everybody plays. Ben Grosse, however, thinks that's bullshit. He thinks you are making a movie, and he'll edit every little syllable if that's what it takes. There were times when I said to him, 'I can't believe you're doing that' and he'd go, 'What, are the gods going to frown down upon me?' That's where a tug-of-war began, and it's why I think the record sounds as good as it does."
But church-studio clarity isn't the only reason why the record is completely engaging from beginning to end. The characters in Folds' songs are touching because, at one point in time, we've come in contact with them. We've all met the Eighties femme fatale in "zak and sara," who forecasts the world of techno in her mind while enduring her dullard boyfriend's attempts at Van Halen solos. Who hasn't confronted a passive-aggressive employer like Lucretia in "fired?", or the spoiled girl enabled by her family in "carrying cathy"? The demanding, suicide-threatening paramour in "losing lisa" has touched more people's lives than rained-out scarecrows and steel mill closings. Even the acid-baked partygoer-turned God's servant in "not the same" is based on a true story so fascinating, it makes you wonder why America has a war on drugs in the first place. "I've always noticed that every collection of songs I've done on record makes me think, 'Wow, I'm older,'" he explains. "I think it's my way of keeping my chronicle updated. I think the records document a you-are-there kind of presence. You know how songwriting is; you put into it enough of yourself and cook up the rest. For some reason, a bored girl sitting on a Peavey amp moved me. She's a character that's being told to shut up and watch this guy carry on with his shitty ideas." While Folds may place himself as a slightly benign observer on most of the tracks, there are moments that are personal and touching. "still fighting it," a vignette on watching a child grow up, replaces traditional father-and-son relationship roles with a stance closer to foxhole buddies going through the war of life. And "the luckiest" is an unashamed love song to his wife, since even annoyed wiseguys want to know what love is without the lead singer from Foreigner having to show them.
"I think about all the stuff my two-year-old son is going to have to face," he says about "still fighting it." "It's still the same stuff we've all gone through, but it's the same process, whether you're 2 or 40. It was an overwhelming feeling when I saw him come out at the hospital. I looked at him and thought, 'Oh man, that looks hard. That's gotta suck.' And then I realized, 'Wait, the whole trip sucks!' The implied message of that song is that, yes, the trip is worth it.
"I realized how uncool it is to write a song as earnest as 'the luckiest,' and I was wondering if I could pull it off without making myself sick. I think a lot of songwriters over 30 are trained not to write love songs because they're fucking hard. It's a landmine of clichés, but they are heartfelt emotions. I kept working on it until it meant something to me and didn't press my nausea buttons." The tour de force on rockin' the suburbs, however, is the title track, where Folds slides a psychic-skewer through the kidneys of today's oh-so angry new-metal millionaires in the same way the Five knocked down indie-rock elitists with "Underground" a decade before. Add producer Grosse's hardware into the equation ("Got a producer with computers fixing all my shitty tracks"), and you also realize that the singer isn't beyond pointing the knife at himself just prior to jamming out arena-style at the song's end.
With rockin' the suburbs, Folds has established himself as a quadruple musical threat in his own league. In order to rock your tract of land, he's formed a new band featuring longtime Chapel Hill buddies Snuzz ('snooze") and Millard ("If they were available at the time, they would have been the original Ben Folds Five") and ex-Sheryl Crow and Dixie Chicks drummer Jim Bogios.
As for comparisons to other popular piano men, if you must, we suggest Randy Newman, the under appreciated American national treasure whose poignant songwriting and memorable characters have much in common with Folds' ordinary heroes and victims.
"Yeah! I remember seeing him on Saturday Night Live, and he played that song 'Pants'" muses Folds. "He kept singing, 'I'm gonna take off my pants.' At that point in time I said, 'Yes! That's what I want to do when I grow up.' And my dad got up from his chair and said, 'I wish he'd take off his pants and shut the fuck up, already.'"
Ben Folds is destined to rock the suburbs and your world. Be careful, though: We're not sure if he'll be wearing a belt.